Christopher Walken sculptures at Socrates Sculpture Park turn heads

Don’t you just love when you run into Christopher Walken in Queens?

Maybe you never saw the actor himself out for a stroll in Astoria, but residents are seeing a whole lot more of his face lately. Concrete busts of Walken are sticking out of the grass at Socrates Sculpture Park thanks to New Jersey-born artist Bryan Zanisnik. 

The busts, or “mushrooms,” as Zanisnik calls them, began sprouting in August and will be on display through March. Dubbed “Monument to Walken,” the exhibit is one of 15 included in the park’s “2016 Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition.” The program allows rising artists to work on large-scale projects at an on-site studio space from June through September. 

Zanisnik shared his inspiration and answered one key question for us via email: Why?

Explain your vision behind “Monument to Walken.”

Working on a new project for Socrates Sculpture Park, I was interested in creating a work that responded to the history of the surrounding neighborhood. After a little research, I learned that Christopher Walken was born in Astoria and his family owned a bakery only a few blocks away from Socrates.

Was Walken’s connection to Astoria a key inspiration? 

I wanted my piece to be a monument to him in his home neighborhood, but I also wanted the work to be a bit unsettling. Since the sculptures were being installed in a park, I thought of his heads as mushrooms, springing up from the bases of trees.

This idea of Christopher Walken mushrooms was pushed further in the comic produced by my collaborator, Eric Winkler. In the comic, we see various types of Walken mushrooms, signs not to pick the Walkens, and even a narrative about me eating one of these mushrooms, which happens to be hallucinogenic. Perhaps the project suggests that Walken’s DNA was imbued into the soil of Astoria, and now Walken mushrooms are growing everywhere.

How did your work end up a part of the park’s “Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition”? 

I applied to be a part of this exhibition through an open call.

How did you expect or hope people would interact with your artwork?

For years, I’ve been exhibiting works in galleries and museums, but this is the first outdoor work I have ever produced. From the start, I knew that the public would touch my work much more than if it were in a museum.

The heads were cast in concrete and then slid into 150 pounds of additional concrete that were poured into the earth. The concrete is weather-resistant and strong enough to stand up to the typical activities that occur in NYC parks.

So far, on social media, I’ve seen photos of children sitting on the Walken heads, adults kissing them, a woman pretending to give birth to one and countless images of dogs smelling, staring at and even urinating on them. I’m currently living in Sweden and love waking up each morning and seeing what my Walken heads have been up to.

Have any of your previous displays featured only busts or Walken?

Earlier this year, I had an exhibition in Miami titled “The Philip Roth Presidential Library.” The work consisted of thousands of Philip Roth novels housed in crumbling, drywall towers, and at the entrance to this exhibition was a 3-D-modeled bust of Philip Roth. I chose Roth because I had a legal battle with the author in 2012. That year I presented a performance in NYC where I silently held a Roth novel as part of a larger installation.